BALTIMORE – The Maryland men’s lacrosse team had every reason to be excited on Saturday night. They were playing their arch-rival, third-ranked Johns Hopkins, on national television in the biggest game of the year for both teams.
But with about eight minutes left in the second quarter and Hopkins leading 4-2, Maryland head coach John Tillman had to implore his team to keep up the intensity.
“We need to stay excited,” he begged, pacing the sideline.
The message might not have sunk in until after halftime, but 10th ranked Maryland turned things around in the second half and defeated Johns Hopkins 9-6 in front of an over-capacity crowd at Homewood field in Baltimore.
Down 6-3 just 43 seconds into the third quarter, Maryland (7-3, 1-2 ACC) scored the last six goals of the game.
The Terps’ defense, which came into the night allowing nearly eight goals a game, held Hopkins (9-2) scoreless for the last 29:17 of the game, the longest drought for the Blue Jays all season.
After the game, Tillman said the Terps are at their best when the team is energetic and supporting one another.
Junior long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt said watching role players fight for every loose ball made everyone work harder.
“Guys people may never have heard of like [sophomore midfielder] Greg D’Arienzo, or [sophomore long-stick middie] Taylor Morgan, [sophomore defender] Emmet Cahill…when we see guys like that get on the field and make plays, that just gets us going,” Bernahrdt said.
Maryland’s stars played big too.
Junior attack Owen Blye scored four goals — all in the second half — to lead the Terps on offense.
“Anybody can have a big day and fortunately for me, things kind of went well for me tonight. But our offense played unselfishly and I think that’s what we do best,” Blye said after his second four-goal performance this season.
Maryland had plenty of chances to fold in a tough environment.
In the second quarter, Hopkins outshot the Terps 14-2, won four of five face-offs and scooped up more than twice as many ground balls. Hopkins held onto the ball for about 12 of 15 minutes in the quarter.
The Terps escaped trailing 5-3 at intermission thanks to Billy Gribbin’s 13th goal of the year with 54 seconds left. Without that goal Maryland would have been held scoreless in the second quarter.
“They wore us down,” Tillman said. “At halftime we were pleased it was only a two-goal game. I think we had three settled possessions.”
Mike Poppleton, the junior face-off specialist for Hopkins who won 14 of 19 face-offs, won the opening draw to begin the second half. The Blue Jays offense moved quickly. Senior attack Chris Boland scored at the 14:17 mark in the third quarter to make it a three-goal game.
That was the last score of the night for the home team. Although the Terps won just two face-offs in the second half, they controlled the game by being more physical.
Even though Maryland’s team is younger than Hopkins, Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala said his team played like the less experienced squad.
“I don’t think we got tired, I think we got tight,” Pietramala said after the game. “We got away from basic things that had made us successful in the first half…I thought we stopped sliding and got a little selfish defensively..I think we have to be a little less cute and little more fundamental.”
Tillman and Bernhardt said the team didn’t really change anything in the locker room, they just performed better.
Hopkins took big hunks of time off the clock on each of their possessions. Maryland scored on six of their 11 shots in the second half, twice as efficient as the first 30 minutes.
“I think we did a great job of taking good, quality shots when we did get the ball. You can’t change what you do just because you haven’t had the ball,” Blye said. “We’re a team that can score in bunches, so a 6-3 deficit doesn’t cause us to panic. We would never panic.”
It appeared that Hopkins regained 7-6 lead in the fourth quarter on a shot by freshman attack Wells Stanwick. But he was in the crease, and the goal was waved off.
Blye gave the Terps their first lead of the game a minute later. He carried the ball around the net and backed down the defense before ripping a shot past Bassett.
Junior midfielder Kevin Cooper capped the scoring with 2:31 left. Junior midfielder John Haus scooped up a ground ball in the box and found Jesse Bernhardt streaking towards midfield. Bernhardt quickly found senior attack Joe Cummings, who made a final pass to Cooper alone in front of the goal.
If there was any doubt how important this game was to the entire Maryland lacrosse program, Tillman put it to rest during the post game press conference.
Fighting back tears, he said the game was for the players and the alumni. Right after the game, he found his former All-American attackman Ryan Young for an emotional embrace.
“I gave him a big hug and said I was thinking about his mom and his family because we lost her about a year ago. We felt like it was a great opportunity to pay tribute to her and what she meant to all of us,” he said.
The win took some pressure off the Terps who had just one marquee victory in 2012, a 10-7 win against Duke in early March, as they build their NCAA Tournament resume.
Maryland earned the fourth seed in their conference and will play top-seeded Duke in the semi-final of the ACC Tournament on Friday at 5 p.m. in Charlottesville, Va. The game can be heard on WMUC Sports.